I’ve moved this blog to The Write Place and I’d love you to pop over and see what I’m up to there.
Contests are a fabulous way to announce your presence on the local writing scene. If you are placed in a contest, it helps you to establish a writing cv or bio that many publications require and it also boosts your confidence. Not having a publishing record can be intimidating for beginner writers, but don’t allow yourself to be disheartened. A story well told will be enjoyed by an editor or contest reader.
WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
It is important to be selective about which contests you enter. Without diligent research you could end up sending entries that don’t comply with the rules. If a publication says they only want fiction entries, then that is all they want. They will summarily reject poetry and non-fiction entries, no matter how brilliant they might be. A recent local contest received hundreds of entries, but about a hundred of them were rejected because the entrants did not comply with the rules. If a rule states that you have to be a citizen of Burramunga to enter, then that’s the rule, don’t waste your time or the contest organisers’ time by submitting anything to them.
If you’re serious about entering contests then you need to establish which ones are suitable for the genre that you write in. Good resources can be found in comprehensive listings in publications like The Writer’s Yearbook and Writer’s Market UK available at good bookstores, and obviously, the internet. Many writing sites have a listing of writing contests.
The best way to ensure that you enter the competitions that you are able to comply with, is to have a Contest Plan. In November/December every year, I spend about a week researching contests online and in the Writer’s Yearbook and Writer’s Market. I make a list of those I want to enter by listing them according to the earliest closing date. I cut and paste the submission rules of each into a Word document entitled Contests 2009. At the beginning of every month I see what’s coming up, trying to read three months in advance. If I feel that there is a contest I want to enter then I print that contest’s details and put it into the plastic folder. Date order is essential because at a glance I am able to see what’s coming up. Being forewarned, so to speak, gives me time to consider what story I would like to write, it also gives me a chance to check through unpublished work for a suitable story. This list is invaluable and can be added to throughout the year if new contests appear. It also provides a template for the following year.
KEEP A SEPARATE FOLDER
I have a plastic see through box where I keep all research material, contest rules and drafts of competition entries, this cuts out the confusion of having to remember where I have filed an article or an idea.
JOT DOWN IDEAS
In the plastic folder I keep a notebook for ideas that I want to jot down. An idea don’t remember itself, if you don’t write it down, consider that idea a cigarette that you enjoyed, but once it’s gone up in smoke, you can’t reclaim it. If all your ideas and rules and research are centrally located you won’t waste time.
If you’re going to be a serious contest entrant then you need to keep track of which submissions you’ve made to which publications. Many contests do not accept simultaneous submissions, i.e. it’s not protocol to send the same entry to several competitions at the same time. Knowing where your stories are is essential. A good idea is to download manuscript management software. The best tracker that I’ve found is SAMM which is completely free and downloadable at this link. It’s fabulous because you can customise it according to your needs and it’s unobtrusive. You can enter all your manuscripts, you can enter markets and market types. It’s a no-fuss application that will alert you with follow-ups if you so require.
Before you send your entry, make a checklist from the rules sheet. Have you double-spaced your entry? Must you include your name on the manuscript or mustn’t you? Have you included your contact details? It is so easy to avoid silly mistakes by using a checklist, but remember to be flexible because different contests have different criteria, some want three copies of an entry and others require only a single copy. Some contests allow email entries, others do not. Make it your business to establish the rules for your checklist.
I remember when I started writing again how at sea I felt. On the waves of an emerging literary boom in South Africa, I decided to dip my toes into the water. For many years I just wrote, churned out stories week after week without any idea as to who my reader might be or where I would send the stories to for publication.
I read every writing manual I could lay my hands on and scanned the internet week after week for a course where I might meet other wannabe writers. But alas there were no courses available and it was just by coincidence that I learned of the MA in Writing programme at Wits. It was certainly the catalyst that yanked my writing out of its status of dabbling and catapulted it into my life’s commitment.
There are obviously courses for horses and I would say the MA was a lucky bet for me; it provided exactly the didactic atmosphere that I enjoy. I learned a lot about craft – not everything, but a helluva lot. There are aspects of writing that I felt definitely were not given the attention they deserved, such as the ethics of writing and revision and editing.
Currently there are a lot of writing courses on offer and they are varied and seem tailor-made for the new writer who wants to try their hand. The range of topics is vast – romance writing, song-lyric writing, poetry, memoir, etc. Personally I find most courses geared towards the beginning writer who wants to specialise in a certain genre, yet there are other areas that could provide extremely interesting content for the more experienced writer, such as real travel writing, not tourist blurb; representation of the Other in contemporary literature; writing and meditation; how to use De Bono to generate stories. In fact, I think I will teach some of these classes …
Hereunder is a list of some of the companies offering courses. Please note the list is not exhaustive and it is given as a guide only:
http://www.sawriterscollege.co.za/ – S A Writers College offers a range of online courses and a user-friendly website with lots of interesting info for writers. Their online short story course costs R2995.
http://www.cityvarsity.co.za/shortc/sc_journ/sc_fmj/shortc/sc_ctbdates/ – City Varsity in Cape Town offers a basic 5-week journalism course at a cost of R3500. It is held in the evenings, which makes it a viable proposition for people who work.
http://www.futureshock.co.za/nucourse.htm – South African Writers Network offer self-study modules at a cost of R350 per module.
http://www.intec.edu.za/live/content.php?Item_ID=103 – Intec offers self-study courses in Creative Writing and Journalism. Their price is R3760 to R4 178.
http://www.anneschuster.co.za/ – Anne Schuster offers the Women’s Writing Workshop. Appears to offer courses that focus on introspective writing – a good place to start – not a good place to stay for either yourself or your writing.
http://www.unisa.ac.za/Default.asp?Cmd=ViewContent&ContentID=7612 – UNISA (Pretoria) offer a correspondence BA in Creative Writing in both English and Afrikaans. Inquire at fees office for cost of this course or modules thereof.
http://www-za.iaj.org.za/index.htm?main_category=4 – Institute for the Advancement of Journalism(Parktown, Johannesburg) offers a range of courses during the year. User-friendly site, but again no costs advertised so you’ll have to email at email@example.com
http://web.wits.ac.za/Academic/Humanities/GSH/GraduateProgammes/MACoursework.htm – University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg). Many published graduates from this programme. No details on their website about the Creative Writing MA, may be in abeyance. Phone them to find out on 011-717-4032 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
http://www.commerce.uct.ac.za/organisations/creative_writing/application.asp – University of Cape Town. Full details available for the MA they offer in Creative Writing. Lots of published graduates from this programme.
http://www.writersbureaucourse.com/?gclid=CNrx0Kr00pQCFQ8gQgodyil1lg – The Writers Bureau is an international correspondence course based in the UK and they offer a guarantee on their courses. Exchange rate may be prohibitive for some of the overseas-based online courses.
Things that you might like to consider when deciding on where to take a course are: Who is teaching the course – what are their credentials? What type of interaction will I have with teachers or mentors to help solve problems that I may encounter? What exactly will I learn on the course. Ask for an outline so that you know what will be covered and the learning level at which the course is pitched?
Accept that there is no single course that is going to provide solutions to all your writerly needs, but the benefits that accrue from learning your craft well and making contact with people who are literary minded are well worth it.
Last night Wits Writing Centre hosted the launch of two Botsotso titles: 100 Papers by Liesl Jobson and Out of the Wreckage by Allan Kolski Horwitz. Guests were invited to participate in a discussion about the short-short story genre (which is the genre of both of these works) by Veronique Tadjo and Harry Kalmer.
The event really made me proud to be a writer – to be a ‘colleague’ of some of the most generous people I’ve encountered. In the intimate venue, around a large wooden table, Tadjo and Kalmer offered insight and nuggets of information about the genre and the renaissance of the short story, not only in South Africa but on the rest of the continent. Questions from the floor focussed on the role of technology in maintaining a culture of reading and mention was made of Michelle Matthews’s (ex-Oshun) latest endeavour – A Novel Idea. Her innovation allows the reader to have chapters of a novel smsed to them.
Well-organised book launches can offer so much more than just book-signing opportunities and it’s a pity that Exclusive Books and most publishing houses don’t offer readers and writers a forum in which to experience these literary interactions. A recent event that I unfortunately could not attend, was one put together by The Write Company that involved an evening of chocolate tasting and a talk by writer Lauren Liebenberg author of The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam. Creative events such as these deserve good attendance.
To build a culture of readers, South Africa needs a culture of writers – ones that interact and share their skill and their hopes and aspirations for the genre in which they write.
Having work accepted in a literary magazine is a big deal for a writer, it means that something you’ve been working on has found a home and won’t be relegated to the homeless drawer. It is frustrating then that once work has been accepted, some literary magazines don’t ever make contact again.
I submitted a poem to Botsotso and it was accepted and the editor asked for more. I sent more. I waited a year – no publication and no contact. I accept that funding is a problem, but then the editor needs to be upfront about this situation and say, “Your poems might only be published in a year’s time.” This knowledge will give me the option to decide whether or not the poem has the lifespan to wait or whether I want to submit to another magazine.
I was informed that SA Dept of Arts & Culture were sponsoring a new SA literary journal to be edited by Prof. Oliphant of UNISA. I submitted a poem and a literary essay and both were accepted, March being given as the publishing date. I emailed the editor to provide details of publication and where the publication could be purchased, but to date I have had no response.
I provided another new publication with a literary essay and it was accepted. Then I was told that it wouldn’t appear in the print issue but rather as a parallel article online. I accepted the change in publication and agreed to write some reviews for the same publication. To date the literary essay has not been published online, despite the editor’s reassurance that it is on the website!
I think it’s time that South African writers stood their ground and were more demanding of these editors, if they hold themselves out to be a market for writers then they must deliver. If they insist that they are looking for new writers and new writing then they must woo the new writers instead of publishing names that they feel will lend their publication stability. Without new writers the literary magazines will not last.
New writing is about taking risks and new publications should take this into account. South African writing is characterised by writers who have never been afraid to give voice to the unpopular. By serving up safe writing by middle of the road writers local editors are failing to contribute to the tradition of excellent SA writing.